After this disastrous royal tour, is the sun finally setting on the Commonwealth realms? | Moya Lothian-McLean


JHow long has the British monarchy been in crisis? This time – after ‘Megxit’, after Prince Andrew – it was the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s disastrous trip to the Caribbean. What was meant to be a ‘charm offensive’, generating excitement in the year of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, ended up looking more like a long goodbye, with headlines highlighting anti-royal protests, the failures to address the legacies of slavery, and the news that Jamaica is considering abandoning the Queen as head of state.

It may be time for the royal family to face the fact that the sun is setting on these last remnants of the empire they once embodied – and it’s not too soon.

For the British, it can be easy to forget that the Queen’s kingdom and territories extend far beyond these islands. Of the 54 “independent and equal nations” that make up the Commonwealth of Nations, 15 (including the UK) still count the Queen as head of state. Becoming a republic does not require renouncing membership in the Commonwealth itself – it simply means a symbolic rejection of British rule. And with Barbados finally taking the plunge last year, long-running debates over republicanism have been reignited in the remaining kingdoms.

The issue is just as hotly debated in places like Australia (54% of people there would be in favor of a republic) as it is in Jamaica, but packing William and Kate into the Caribbean has inevitably focused people’s minds in this region. Although Republican camps in the Caribbean have long cited the impact of colonialism and slavery on the contemporary fortunes of their countries, a new reckoning is underway, in the context of the global Black Lives Matter movement and renewed conversations about the heritage of the empire. Thanks to the attention paid by the royal family, the disintegration of British rule abroad is documented in real time.

‘This is not crown land’: William and Kate cancel first Caribbean visit due to protests – video

The signs weren’t good for William and Kate from the start. The couple’s first official engagement in Belize was unceremoniously called off after protests from the Q’eqehi Maya people over a land dispute with a charity that William patronizes. Heading to Jamaica, they were met with further protests, this time calling on the royal family to address reparations for the several hundred years they directly gained from the slave trade. Government officials backed the sentiment, with Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness solemnly informing William and Kate that the country was “moving forward” and wanted to be “independent”, apparently following Barbados’ example. It’s no wonder the royals grabbed the headlines on Sunday in damage control mode, with William offering a half-apology for the tour.

As always, sometimes opening your mouth just makes it worse: In a speech in Kingston last week, Prince William expressed his ‘deep sadness’ for the transatlantic slave trade, but people were quick to to point out that he had stopped short of apologizing or acknowledging the direct interests of the monarchy in slavery. At one point in history, enslaved black Africans arriving in the Caribbean via the Royal African Company were branded with the initials “DY”, marking them as the property of the then Duke of York. Royal profits from slavery continued apace – the future William IV even personally advocated the continuation of the trade in the House of Lords in 1799, a decision that historian Brooke Newman says helped ‘delaying’ abolition for a few more years but ‘misjudged the mood of the nation’ – and damaged the reputation of the royal family as a result.

For the royal family, the trip was a sharp lesson in how people across the Commonwealth now view Britain and its institutions. As Jamaican dancehall artist Beenie Man said in an interview with ITV News: “We are right here, controlled by the British, governed by British law when you go to court. It’s all about the Queen… but what are they doing for Jamaica? They do nothing for us. Jamaican writer Ashley Rouen Brown summed up the grounds for resentment succinctly: Jamaicans, he wrote, are “at present the only citizens of the Commonwealth realm who require a visa to visit the country of their Head of State”. . Meanwhile, demands for financial reparations, in recognition of the impact of centuries of plunder on economic prospects, have received egregious responses, such as David Cameron’s 2015 offer to Britain to fund a prison of £25million to detain Jamaican ‘criminals’ in lieu of compensation. for slavery.

In Jamaica, republicanism has been part of the political conversation since the 1970s, and there is cross-party support for the move. But now the debate has been replaced by the decision. Emancipation is in full swing. It’s no coincidence that this comes as the Queen – who “put the Commonwealth at the center of her life when she became monarch” – reaches the twilight of her reign. But it also can’t be a coincidence that all of this is happening after years of governmental and monarchical mismanagement in London. The consequences of the Windrush scandal still leave a bitter taste. And, although on a different scale, it’s worth considering Beenie Man’s words a little more: “If Harry came, people would react differently,” he said. “People are going to meet Harry.” In this sense, the members of the royal family are really the authors of their own misfortune.

“The monarchy is a relic”: protests in Jamaica against the royal visit – video

But with or without the Sussexes, there’s an air of historical inevitability to it all. So what happens next? Ahead of Kate and William’s visit, Windrush campaigner Patrick Vernon said: “If Jamaica decided they would [want to become a republic]there would be a domino effect on the rest of the English-speaking Caribbean.

His words may well be prescient. The royal couple flew to the Bahamas, the final leg of their tour, to be met with protests on the ground and opposition from the likes of the Bahamas National Reparations Committee. Belize has announced a constitutional review, and late last year leaders including the premier of St. Vincent were urging other Commonwealth realms to gain republican status. The wheels seem firmly in motion, with the royal family’s open-back Land Rover spinning in the sand.

This kind of reality check is long overdue and, who knows, it might even be of long-term benefit to Britain if it helps disabuse our political class of their globe-trotting Empire 2.0 fantasies. . At the very least, now is the time to admit that for many parts of the world, the benefits of British sovereignty are felt hardest by the home nation itself. Within our own borders, we may delude ourselves that the monarchy is still a sparkling jewel in our crown. But for many people abroad who wish to escape the shadow cast by empire and exploitation, the shine has well and truly faded.

This article was amended on March 28, 2022 because, in 1799, it was in the House of Lords that the future William IV argued for the continuation of the slave trade, and not in the House of Commons as an earlier version said.


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